The checkpoint scanned me through the snow, indifferently, its soldiers too young to have been commanded by me. But then superiors were summoned. My name was repeated. With increasing panic. As they realised what it meant. I smiled as they pulled a hood over my head. The name they’d disappeared, de-documented, deleted. I’d made them say it out loud. Again.
I asked my teenage guard if he was one of the ones who would shoot me. He blushed like I’d asked for his virginity. That night he pushed gifts through the bars of my cell. A red scarf, red lipstick, red leather shoes. Antiques of a luxury age.
‘Phosphorus red,’ I said. The guard smiled. Like he knew all the secrets of my siege-ending engines. I wanted to ask how he knew. But it was already dawn. On the steps to the guillotine, I tightened my shoes’ red straps. Loosened my red scarf. And knelt for the blade.
My head fell forwards into a basket. My body rolled sideways into a cart. My guard was shouting. ‘But there is no blood!’ Soldiers tried to hold him back, but he fought through them, took up the handles of my cart, and charged at the prison gates. Out, past the blasted skyscrapers, past the burnt-out hospital, past the firebombed banks. To where two canals met. The guard tipped my body into the water. Then my head.
He watched them bob separately among the sheets of ice, until a stream began to guide them. And I was gone. My red heels sucked down last. Through creaking currents, out of the city, into the Black River’s tumble of blood and blizzard. Seaward. Or so he’d hoped.
But I didn’t make it to the sea.
Newer rivers interfered. My body washed up the Red River’s banks. And somehow, through the thawing freezing jumble of the journey, my head had frozen back onto my neck. Diagonally.
My corpse was lifted up into a net. By some kind of holy gang. They hung me from a pole and wheeled me through streets I nearly knew. They called me the red woman. From the Red River. With my red scarf, red shoes, and still-red phosphorus lips.
As I hung from the pole, my icy body refracted the moon-dim noon-light. I was a hanging corpse of jewels. The locals came to look up at my sparkling. Rumours spread that my corpse could grant miracles.
They began to worship me. Newlyweds knelt in the snow beneath me, praying for fertility. Mothers prayed for protection during childbirth. That I would watch over their children’s futures. Though winter was the only season now. My icy corpse would never thaw.
Eventually new soldiers came to my city. They burst the dams, cut cables and pipes, and blew low satellites out of the sky. A Great Engineer took charge. On a feast day, he had my body pulled down and dragged to the steps of the law courts and whipped. Then he put my corpse on trial.
I was judged by a jury of scientists, for being what I was now, a crime against nature. They did not know who I had been, that documents in another country could prove my guilt. That I’d built the world-sterilising weapons that caused this winter – after the Earth’s magnetic field changed, creating new rules, new rulers, new terrorists.
Perhaps ‘countries’ did not exist anymore anyway. Perhaps I had been evil. Still, lawyers made arguments into weeks. I could not speak for myself. What would I have said? I did it to save my people. I did it for love. I did it for nothing.
But here, now, the jury was moved to tears. Witnesses spoke on my behalf, with testimony of my miracles. The frozen woman. Her red severed highness.
I was found ‘not guilty’. The Great Engineer was shot. I was canonised. My body was buried in one of my own engines. The planet’s broken magnetism was refracted through the engine’s bowl, until the green auroras bent red, and monopoles shattered my body outwards – into a cloud that flowed like pollen across the lands that I betrayed.
jonathan lyon is a writer based in berlin.
image credit: sophie le roux